Apr 14, 2020

Axios Sports

💔 Good morning. Sad day yesterday. Karl-Anthony Towns' mother, Jacqueline, passed away due to complications from COVID-19, and ex-NFL QB Tarvaris Jackson died in a car crash. Tell your family you love them this morning.

Today's word count: 1,977 words (7 minutes)

1 big thing: 🏈 Farewell to the XFL (again)

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The XFL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday, marking the second straight year that an upstart football league has shuttered without finishing its debut season.

  • Yes, but: Unlike the Alliance of American Football, which folded due to mismanagement and a lack of funding, the XFL — which was off to a surprisingly strong start — fell victim to the coronavirus.

Why it matters: This reflects how the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the live sports industry, with sources suggesting that other shoestring leagues could soon meet a similar fate.

What we learned: The XFL is owned by WWE boss Vince McMahon and Alpha Entertainment, and according to the filing, the WWE also owned 23.5% of Class B stock. That came as a surprise, with some pointing to comments McMahon made in the past about the two companies being "completely separate."

What they're saying:

"The XFL got off to a hot start from a viewership perspective, drawing 3.12 million viewers in Week 1. By the time Week 5 rolled around, that number had been cut in half. Still, there were signs of life. The St. Louis BattleHawks had reportedly sold 45,000 tickets to their next game before the league shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak."
— Darren Rovell, Action Network

The big picture: When the original XFL debuted 19 years ago, game broadcasts featured a "sky cam" and mic'd up players — two things the NFL has since adopted. What innovations will the NFL adopt from the XFL 2.0?

  • The reinvented kickoffs were fun (only the kicker and receiver can move before the ball is caught), and I personally enjoyed the shortened play clock (25 seconds instead of 40).
  • But, like its predecessor, the XFL's lasting impact will likely be felt most on the broadcast side of things. The all-access presentation was undeniably awesome, and putting viewers inside the replay booth made for great TV.

The bottom line: As it turns out, it is very hard to start a football league — and virtually impossible amid a pandemic.

  • After the failings of the AAF and XFL, it could be a while before another one pops up, and I remain fully convinced that the only way we'll ever get a sustainable spring football league is if its owned and operated by the NFL.

P.S. ... In related news, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has deemed the WWE an "essential business," allowing events to continue.

2. 💵 Sports betting map
Reproduced from American Gaming Association; Cartogram: Axios Visuals

Since the demise of the federal ban on state-authorized sports betting 23 months ago, 20 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have joined Nevada in legalizing sports wagering.

  • Legal (17 states): Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia
  • Passed bill (4 states plus D.C.): Colorado, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, Washington, D.C.

The others:

  • Active bill (17 states): Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia
  • Failed legislation in 2020 (5 states): Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maine, Wyoming
  • No legislation in 2020 (7 states): Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin

What to watch: Despite the lack of live sports, Colorado is moving ahead as planned, and come May 1, the Centennial State will become the 18th state with a regulated sports betting market.

  • The next wave: The sports betting markets in North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington and Washington, D.C. are expected to become operational soon, while Virginia is taking the last steps before finalizing legislation.
3. 🏰 Disney's new reality

Bob is back. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/L.A. Times via Getty Images

Just a few months ago, following the successful launch of Disney+ and several quarters of stellar earnings, Disney appeared to be unstoppable. But today, it's one of America's biggest coronavirus victims.

By the numbers: With its parks, movies and cruise businesses being crushed by stay-at-home orders — and ESPN being crushed by a lack of sports — Disney's stock has dropped nearly 30 percentage points from its peak in January.

Driving the news:

  • Sports: ESPN, which Disney owns, has asked its 100 highest-paid commentators to take a 15% pay cut over the next three months, and executives have reportedly already taken pay cuts of their own.
  • Parks: A services union group said Sunday that Disney would furlough over 43,000 of its 75,000 Walt Disney World theme park employees.
  • Movies: Several of Disney's blockbuster films have been postponed as theaters remain shuttered.
  • Cruises: Disney cruise lines extended some of its temporary sailing suspensions and has closed most of its North America resorts.

Yes, but: Despite these challenges, Disney's big bet, Disney+, is flourishing as families stuck at home look for ways to entertain their kids. After just five months, the service has over 50 million subscribers, per the company.

Data: Company filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

What's next: Bob Iger, who in February announced his retirement as Disney CEO, has "effectively returned to running the company," NYT's Ben Smith reports.

"After a few weeks of letting [his replacement Bob Chapek] take charge, Mr. Iger smoothly reasserted control .... [He] is now intensely focused on remaking a company that will emerge, he believes, deeply changed by the crisis."

The bottom line, via Axios' Sara Fischer: If Disney's downfall demonstrates anything, it's that even the most powerful and disciplined businesses are vulnerable to unexpected events. The coronavirus will fundamentally alter the way the nearly 100-year-old business operates moving forward.

4. ğŸŽ¬ The making of "The Last Dance"
Screenshot: ESPN (Vimeo)

The 10-part Michael Jordan documentary, "The Last Dance," premieres this weekend and will air on ESPN on Sunday nights over the course of five weeks (April 19–May 17).

  • Why it matters: This was already the most highly-anticipated sports doc in years. Given our current situation, it has the potential to be the most-watched limited series of all time.

Driving the news: In an interview with The Athletic's Richard Deitsch, director Jason Hehir went deep into the process of making the film.

  • "Over the course of two years, he interviewed 106 people including Jordan, who gave the filmmakers three separate interviews — one in June 2018, one in May 2019 and a final interview in December 2019," writes Deitsch (subscription).
  • "The 10 episodes are laid out by October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, May, and June [of 1998]," said Hehir. "There are two episodes that are dedicated to May because there’s a lot of playoff material to get to in episodes 8 and 9."

ğŸŽ¥ Watch:

5. 📊 By the numbers
Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
  • 🏈 $16 million annually: Christian McCaffrey's four-year extension with the Panthers averages out to $16 million per year, making him the highest-paid RB in NFL history, just ahead of Ezekiel Elliott ($15 million) and Le'Veon Bell ($14.1 million).
  • 🏀 826 wins: Longtime Amherst College men's basketball coach David Hixon retired yesterday. Over 42 years at his alma mater, Hixon won 826 games (one of three D-III coaches to reach 800 wins), had a .738 winning percentage (20th all-time among all divisions) and won two national titles in 2007 and 2013.
  • 😷 9 confirmed cases: As of Monday, Nicaragua, the poorest country in Central America, had reported just one death and nine confirmed cases of COVID-19. Many have questioned the veracity of those numbers — but that hasn't stopped Nicaraguan baseball and soccer leagues from carrying on.
6. 📚 Good reads
49ers WR Deebo Samuel exits the field after losing Super Bowl LIV. Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

😷 The 49ers lost the Super Bowl and may have saved lives (Andrew Beaton and Ben Cohen, WSJ)

"Some experts who have studied the Bay Area's containment of the virus have reached a surprising conclusion about these simultaneous events of Super Bowl Sunday: San Francisco likely won when the 49ers lost."

⚾️ The first Japanese professional baseball game took place in ... Kansas? (John Thorn, Our Game)

"On the evening of April 13, [the Japanese team] headed south to begin a 25-week tour that would cover over 2,500 miles through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Their first stop was Frankfort, a small town of about 1,400 people in northeastern Kansas, where they would play the town's high school squad."

🏈 "The Mountain" is coming to college football (Adam Kramer, B/R)

"Meet 17-year-old Bryce Foster, the 6-foot-5-inch, 330-pound offensive lineman (and potential Olympian) in the 2021 class that everyone is after."
7. April 14, 1996: 🏒 Red Wings win 62 games
Photo: Graig Abel/Getty Images

24 years ago today, the Red Wings — led by Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman — won their 62nd and final game, setting an NHL record for most wins in a season (tied last year by the Lightning).

  • It was just the second time a team had won even 60 games (Canadiens, 1977), and the Red Wings were the only team in the NHL to score at least one goal in all 82 games that season.
  • They were ultimately upset by the Avalanche, 4-2, in the Western Conference Finals, with the Avalanche going on to win the Stanley Cup over the Panthers.

P.S. ... Just days later, Michael Jordan and the Bulls set the NBA record for most wins in a season, finishing 72-10. 1996 ruled.

ğŸŽ¥ Watch: Red Wings 1995-96 season highlights (YouTube)

8. The Ocho: 🧽 SpongeBob's sport inventions


Jeff writes: With people around the globe inventing new ways to entertain themselves while quarantined inside, it's important to remember the pioneers of made-up sport who paved the way for us in our time of need.

  • Thanks to SB Nation's Matt Ellentuck — and the Pandora's box of creativity known as SpongeBob — we now have access to the definitive list of "sports" invented by SpongeBob, Patrick and the gang.

The list:

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Photo: Mike Nelson/AFP via Getty Images

Michael Jordan eliminated 20 different Hall of Famers from the postseason during his career, and he eliminated six of them multiple times.

  • Question: Who were those six players?
  • Hint: Three were in "Space Jam," two were teammates and one is the subject of one of the best reaction GIFs on the internet.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why sports matter
Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Jeff B. (Los Angeles) writes:

"Growing up in Maryland, I was a diehard Capitals fan. My dad started taking us to games right when the franchise launched. We were there for every minute of the 1987 Easter Epic when the Islanders' Pat LaFontaine scored in the 4th overtime of Game 7 of the Patrick Division finals. My best friend and I were there as adults for the Game 4 Stanley Cup sweep at the hands of the Red Wings. I have known Inigo Montoya level pain.
"Oliver, our youngest, inherited this cursed fandom. So when the Caps made it back to the Cup against Vegas two years ago, he was in it with me. We live in L.A. now and managed to get to Vegas for Game 2 where we saw The Save. We went back for Game 5 — me sure we would have the rug ripped out from under us yet again, and my then-8-year old confident we would pull it out.
"With 0.6 seconds left, up a goal, the face-off was in our zone at the other end of the rink. I lifted him up so he could see. As the buzzer sounded, 44 years of heartbreak washed away in the form of ugly crying while Oliver whooped with unmitigated joy. I put him down, but he reached to be picked back up and gave me the hug of a lifetime. Beyond.
"Minutes later, my phone started buzzing like mad — I assumed with congratulations from friends and family. Turns out the NBC cameras had been on us for this moment (watch full video)."

✍️ Submit your story: What's your fondest sports memory? Maybe it's a moment you shared with your mom or dad. Maybe you witnessed history. Could be anything! Reply to this email letting me know. We'll be telling your stories all month.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Day 34 without sports" Baker

Trivia answer: Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Vlade Divac, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Alonzo Mourning